(Written for the NFAA scholarship in my senior year in high school)
There come certain situations in life when you realise you're lost, and the only points of reference you have from which to start again are elements of fundamental truth and beauty that you knew in the past. But if a person only knows as much as he remembers, he needs a medium with which to record these truths. I have often had to run back to these parallel streams of time, through words and music, to anchor myself and create another branch. I am only lucky to have a mother who gave me the vocabulary to do so early in my life. My mother instilled in me a love of the arts at the age of four by introducing me to music and literature. On cold winter nights in Wisconsin, she would read me Chinese and English poetry, while we curled up on the couch and looked up at the purple sky through the skylight. I learned the beauty and the meaning of the words through the inflections of her voice. In piano, I progressed from Mozart to Beethoven to Chopin. My first understanding of anger in the music was as physical as the fingers striking against the keyboard; my first understanding of balance came from Beethoven's abrupt transitions. When I finally left my mother at the age of nine to live in Bangkok with my father, the value of self-expression became clear to me. Through the abuse and the family politics, I read, wrote, listened to music, and played piano. When the sounds of my father's shouting finally faded away, I opened my eyes, picked myself up, and walked silently to the room where the piano was. With the door closed I played away the anger and the stinging across my hands and my face. Behind Beethoven's angry melodies was a sense of justice, and even sweeter was the calm that followed, which made me remember that that man was still my father, and I could still love him. When things went wrong and I needed comfort, I listened to jazz to remind me of long walks with my mother through Old Pasadena, where I first understood the feeling of freedom within anonymity - the rhythmic flow of nameless people. When I needed invisibility, I read Emily Dickinson and thought of when I first heard her read in Wisconsin. When I needed my melancholy and refused cheering up, I drank myself into a stupor on Paganini's violins. And on the floating melodies of Debussy, I didn't feel so lost anymore. By the second year of junior high I met a boy who was later to become my best friend. Eric played five instruments, sang well, acted well, and was a skilled artist in almost all media. I, however, was still shy and reserved, and it seemed I had forgotten my love of performance. Around him I found my voice again. We bounced cynical comments off each other, and when running out, broke into Broadway melodies, or settled into a comfortable silence. It was an act of defiance - I could sing my heart out in the worst of circumstances, and when silenced, all that was shared beneath the syllables was heard more clearly. Throughout junior high and high school, while our peers worried about romance and popularity, Eric didn't notice or care. I realised that he found fulfilment in art because just as I, he saw the truth that he once knew, and held onto it. He pulled me out into the open; I joined drama and choir, performed in musicals, experimented with different media, until I found I could sketch images with gestures, voice and words just as well as he could paint and play instruments. The stage was mine because I had the freedom to be anybody I wanted, and I was myself. I feared Eric would change someday like so many others, but he remained constant. So constant that I didn't realise he was my best friend; I feared labels and he was always around so that I didn't need to assure myself of the certainty of his friendship. Only a week before I was to leave Bangkok and return to the States, the home of my memories, did I realise how much he meant to me. I desperately tried to think of ways to make it up to him, feeling as if I had cheated him, but the words I tried to say refused to come. When I finally resigned myself to reticence, he gave me his silent reminder that more than words, we had always had our music, our art, and our unspoken understandings. In my life, I can only live in the present with relation to the truths of the past. Each detail corresponds to a memory that cycles back to that winter in Wisconsin. All my thoughts of Bangkok and Eric become part of the purple nights in my writing and art, because only when I connect them can I think with the purity and the open eyes of a four-year-old who sees beauty and knows no hatred.